Bob Dylan never met a word he couldn’t rhyme.  With Bob, where there’s a will there’s a rhyme.  This blog post is dedicated to seeing that through, how Bob rhymed the word “will” through all his songs, that is.  The goal is to follow “will“‘s power as a Dylan rhyming word.  Bob asks a lot of questions with “will,” “How many deaths will it take til we know . . .” etc.  But will as an expression of one’s determination, a desire to fulfill intentions is what I get mostly from Dylan songs, whether he uses “will” or not.  “Will” means future tense, but it can also connote the past, as in a legal document to be read after a death.

In “Life Is Hardwill combines for a perfect rhyme with “still.” Life can be hard when one’s will is lost, acknowledged more so later in the song:

I just know I need strength to fight
Strength to fight that world outside

Somehow Bob has found the will to find the strength to fight for over five decades.  And in the 60’s when he was younger maybe it was easier to find his will through his art, finding it within him to do things like stand up at the age of 22 in front of a crowd of 300,000 at the March on Washington to sing about the death of Medgar Evers and propose that we are all to blame for his death.  Now that takes will, will-power, and lots of rhymes:
 (“Only A Pawn In Their Game” begins at 3:35 or so.)
Spirit on the Water” consists of 20 verses, each one with perfect rhyming second and fourth line couplets, the 17th, with “will” rhyming with “hill“:

High on the hill
You can carry all my thoughts with you
You’ve numbed my will
This love could tear me in two

This is one of the ten verses with both the first and second lines rhyming.  Dylan’s rhyming ebbs and flows as if his rhyming spirit is on water in this song.  In the last verse, “hill” appears again, but he seems over the rhyming hill with the ill-begotten “got” spoiling the couplet, but not over the hill with “prime” and “time” the last rhyme in the song, a sign of what he’s really ready for, not to be over the hill, but prime time.

Dylan not in in his prime at age 72, but not over the hill either, in Lowell, MA this past April (thanks Brosef Wilson, whoever you are).


If the sentence “They say whiskey will kill ya, but I don’t think it will” were in a newspaper or a novel, the poetics of it would be lost. Even within the song “Nettie Moore” it’s hard for the poetry of the line to stand out.  Maybe because the content is of such interest, being about whiskey and the assertion that it is innocuous or at least not deadly.  But get the short -i’ sound to stand out and Dylan’s assonance brilliance emerges:

They say whiskey will kill ya, but I don’t think it will

“whiskey”/”think it” is not a rhyme, but maybe because of all the -i’s or maybe the syllable count, or maybe because “will” is repeated, but something is rhymingly sweet to the ears.  Of course, the “will“/”will” is not internal rhyme, but just  repeated words, but it too rhymes true, maybe because of the consonant -w in “whiskey” and “will.”

The real rhyme happens with “hill”:

I’m riding with you to the top of the hill

They say this. I don’t believe what they say. I’m riding with you. But I miss her, Nettie Moore that is.

He, Dylan that is, singing “Nettie Moore” in Berlin, 2011:


Not Dark Yet” is one of those perfect atmosphere songs.  Dylan unites atmosphere and tone so well.  I’m going to make the claim that it was this song that helped his fans restore their faith in him and maybe even his own faith in himself.  The “will“/”still” rhyming couplet in the last verse illustrates his songwriting prowess:

I was born here and I’ll die here against my will
I know it looks like I’m moving, but I’m standing still

The whole song’s content and meaning are captured in it.  Most of the song, except for the third verse, captures a person acted upon by events, subjugated to fate.  In the third verse, he admits to going places, London, Paris, and following a river and making it to a sea. Elsewhere, he’s been stagnant, framed by birth and death, events he (all of us) are powerless to control.  But even his movements are not what they seem, so maybe even the traveling reported in verse three is undercut as willed actions.
The song has depth, the theme of Keatsian longing (Ricks), and a tone that moves but feels still, against any listener’s will.
For a change of pace, and a tad against this blog’s will, here’s Eric Clapton singing it live:
Cold Irons Bound” is one of Dylan’s journeying songs, Kerouac-esque in its driving hard towards somewhere and being ardent-hearted in the purpose.  The song gets you thinking about what it means to be bound towards something or somewhere, and whether that involves having a free will at all.
“Bound” has a disruptive rhyming power in the song, it disturbs the rhyming couplets we get used to throughout the song four times; the last stanza repeats “bound” at the of the last two lines to unite the word in a rhyming parody of sorts.
The “will“/”kill” rhyme is not bound by “bound”–boundless it is in the seventh of ten verses:

Some things last longer than you think they will
There are some kind of things you can never kill

There’s  a dark side to this song, the speaker sounds desperate.  “Will” linked by rhyme to “kill” helps evoke the darker purpose to this journey.  Somethings last longer, but some don’t then, yes?  Somethings you can’t kill, but some you can, yes?  Most of the time . . .

This is an American song . . . linked to the likes of Captain Ahab in Moby Dick.  He’s hearing voices, what he’s bound for I can’t tell.  Dylan’s voice takes us down this road with him, where bound to listen, taking us with him, and we’ve all been here before, determined, with a will to be on the road, cold irons bound.

The now-classic video:


Smack dab in the middle of “Born in Time” is a leonine rhyme with the word “will.’  A leonine rhyme is an internal rhyme that occurs when the word in the middle of the line rhymes with the last word in the line.  Here’s the verse it’s in:

Not one more night, not one more kiss
Not this time baby, no more of this
Takes too much skill, takes too much will
It’s revealing
You came, you saw, just like the law
You married young, just like your ma
You tried and tried, you made me slide
You left me reelin’ with this feelin’

This is one of Dylan’s many, many longing for/hurting over/pining for love songs.  There’s  a struggle within the speaker in the song.  Here he wants “no more of this.”  But by the end of the song, he says, “You can have what’s left of me.”  The pause in the line with the leonine rhyme is fitting then, thematic even; he pauses over the skill and will this kind of love requires, perhaps saying something he doesn’t mean, or at least we find he doesn’t mean it by the end.
It’s a good song.  The whole album, Under the Red Sky, gets lost in the fallout of Oh Mercy‘s quality and rave reviews.  I almost wish Under came out before Oh.
I love how Dylan sings it:
There’s a beautiful rhyme with “will” in “Ring Them Bells.” It appears in the third verse, third of five:
Ring them bells Sweet Martha
For the poor man’s son
Ring them bells so the world will know
That God is one
Oh the shepherd is asleep
Where the willows weep
And the mountains are filled
With lost sheep

It’s a sneaky rhyme, as it requires “know” so that “will know” reverberates when the internal rhyming hits two lines down with “willows.” And just in case you pass it up, “filled” appears at the end of the line to team up with “will,” so that a three word rhyming weaves through the verse along with “asleep”/”weep”/”sheep.”
Oh (notice too the “know”/”Oh” rhyme–Dylan doesn’t care where words rhyme), Dylan was back when Oh Mercy hit the records stores.  The word got out back in 1989.  He’s back . . . Ring them bells!:
Alternate Version (Thanks Philly F.)
Man of Peace” starts in the present:
Look out your window, baby, there’s a scene you’d like to catch
The band is playing “Dixie,” a man got his hand outstretched
And it continues that way with Dylan shouting in the present, warning us, of how sometimes Satan comes:

He got a sweet gift of gab, he got a harmonious tongue
He knows every song of love that ever has been sung
Good intentions can be evil
Both hands can be full of grease
You know that sometimes Satan comes as a man of peace

Well, first he’s in the background, then he’s in the front
Both eyes are looking like they’re on a rabbit hunt
Nobody can see through him
No, not even the Chief of Police
You know that sometimes Satan comes as a man of peace

This is what he has, these are his intentions, he’s, he’s, are looking, all present tense.
But then the song turns apocalyptic, prophecies of doom pervade, and so, of course, “will” takes control:
Well, the howling wolf will howl tonight, the king snake will crawl
Trees that’ve stood for a thousand years suddenly will fall
Wanna get married? Do it now
Tomorrow all activity will cease
You know that sometimes Satan comes as a man of peace
will howl,” “will fall,” “will cease” are not rhymes but repeated words, identical rhymes, perhaps, but they are underscored by a movement to the future, an ill-fated one, and Dylan’s voice matches the intensity of the movement ahead, to a future willed a coming that can’t be prevented.
Here’s Dylan singing it with the Grateful Dead in 1987. Listen for that “will” verse. You won’t here it. He leaves out the apocalypse.
I love what this blogging is forcing me to notice.  There’s not a great deal of perfect rhyming in “Is Your Love In Vain,” but when it happens it’s with impact.  Here they are:
“vain” rhymes are the fullest ones, both elements correctly matched. Departures from “vain” push the rhyme envelope, not so much with solitude/intrude or happiness/impressed (love those rhymes), but listen to these words stretched to the rhyming brink:
Seems like he was willing to risk it all with those two.
There’s a lot of questions in this song.  Why not question rhyme as well. And so when there’s no question, as with “vain” rhymes, we have an answer. Yes, indeed, the love is in vain.
Emphasis, Dylan.
Live in Toronto, 1978.
The segment of this blog is dedicated to Michael Gray, 1978, and a pack of Marlboro cigarettes.

“Is Your Love in Vain” starts off with a question, the first of many, that become a test to see how willing the speaker’s lover is to love him back. The first question is cutting:

Do you love me, or are you just extending goodwill?
Do you need me half as bad as you say, or are you just feeling guilt?

will“/”guilt” is an interesting rhyme; it’s not just assonance; the “i” in “will” and the “ui” in “guilt sounds that, but it’s the “L” in both that give it that almost perfect rhyme, but the “t” in “guilt” throws if off, just slightly though at the very end, because Dylan extends the “L” sound with a long drawn out “guiiiiiiiiiiiiilllllllllt.”   It’s a good word to stretch since it become an accusation–think about that word long and hard, and hear the rhyme just as long to boot.
Other questions abound with “will“, leading to the title refrain:

Will I be able to count on you
Or is your love in vain?

Will you let me be myself
Or is your love in vain?

Leading to the ultimate questions, one that summons a commitment to judge her willingess:

Are you willing to risk it all
Or is your love in vain?

What Dylan’s voice stretches and compresses in the original studio recording is worth listening for, worth a way into the song to feel how hard it must be to ask such questions, to feeling forced to ask them:
If You See Her, Say Hello” is structured with rhyming couplets from beginning to end. Most of them are simple, words we have heard rhymed before. They rhyming I think fits the simple request of Hey, if you see her, say hello, just like anyone might say to someone we know will see someone we know. When it’s someone we loved or still love such a request becomes strained–it doesn’t fit what we really feel or really want to say. The song has some strained rhymes, “Tangier”/”hear,” “heart”/”apart,” “rounds”/”town,” and my favorite, “off”/”soft.”
The “will” rhyme is a simple, perfect one, with “chill,” found in the second verse:
We had a falling-out, like lovers often will
And to think of how she left that night, it still brings me a chill

This song will chill you if you let passages like the final verse really sink in,
Sundown, yellow moon, I replay the past
I know every scene by heart, they all went by so fast
If she’s passin’ back this way, I’m not that hard to find
Tell her she can look me up if she’s got the time

The song, like the whole album, is worth the chill found in the blood spilled on every track:
From the New York sessions, especially chilling is the added line, “If you’re making love to her, kiss her for the kid.”
When Dylan said in Chronicles, about the creative process that it helps to be moving, he meant it literally. Riding on a train is one of those ways to move. “It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train to Cry,” with this thought in mind,  could be retitled “It Takes A Lot To Write Unless You have a Train to Rhyme.” The rhyming in this song moves a lot–each verse maintains the b rhyme, with a pattern like this: a/b/a/c/b/d/b.  This pattern is established in the first verse:
Well, I ride on a mailtrain, baby
Can’t buy a thrill
Well, I’ve been up all night, baby
Leanin’ on the windowsill
Well, if I die
On top of the hill
And if I don’t make it
You know my baby will

And then maintained throughout the song:
Don’t the moon look good, mama
Shinin’ through the trees?
Don’t the brakeman look good, mama
Flagging down the “Double E?”
Don’t the sun look good
Goin’ down over the sea?
Don’t my gal look fine
When she’s comin’ after me?Now the wintertime is coming
The windows are filled with frost
I went to tell everybody
But I could not get across
Well, I wanna be your lover, baby
I don’t wanna be your boss
Don’t say I never warned you
When your train gets lost

Riding on the mailtrain, writing on the mailtrain, getting lost with the train, in his mind, following the clippity-clop sound of the train, along with the sounds that rhyming brings.
Here he is singing it live for the Bangladesh Concert, August 1, 1971, don’t those rhymes sound good with that strumming guitar and whimsical harp?:
I guess it makes sense that a song about taking revenge on someone or something like “When The Ship Comes In” would spew out a lot of “will” imperatives. And indeed the song uses the word 19 times. Prophesies abound in it, what will go down, just you wait and see, is what the song is all about, namely when some ship comes in.
Now usually if your ship comes in that’s a good thing. Oh great day in the morning, my ship has finally come in!, meaning it’s what you’ve been waiting for your whole life. But Dylan flips this cliche on its head. In the universe of this song, the ship’s a really bad thing, so bad, that, for the “foes” at least, it’s their worst nightmare. The next to last verse expresses this, and it’s the one with the only use of “will” used in a rhyme:
Oh the foes will rise
With the sleep still in their eyes
And they’ll jerk from their beds and think they’re dreamin’
But they’ll pinch themselves and squeal
And know that it’s for real
The hour when the ship comes in
The rhyme, “will-rise/”still”/”eyes” is interrupted for a split second by “in their”, but before that “will“/”still” appears as a perfect rhyme, underscored by the first 4 syllables of each line completing the rhyme. But the rhyme is not done there; Dylan makes “rise” rise up to our eyes and combine with the “will“/”still” rhyme for a double-barrel sound effect. But not really, because Dylan squeezes in the “in their” so much that it sounds more like one word, “stillintha eyes.”
Dylan never met a word he couldn’t rhyme. And he never let words get in the way of words he wanted to rhyme.
Have a listen:
At the end of five of the six verses that surround the bridge,
Who killed Davey Moore
Why an’ what’s the reason for?

is the rhyme, “fall”/”all”:
It wasn’t me that made him fall
No, you can’t blame me at all”

But the last verse, when the target is Davey Moore’s opponent, the rhyme switches to “will“/kill”
Don’t say ‘murder,’ don’t say ‘kill’
It was destiny, it was God’s will
The song is a litany of defenses against blame, of deflecting accountability, responsibility for the death of a man. The last verse though is the first and only one with a target of blame blaming someone else, and that something else is God–God’s will killed Davey Moore, the opposing boxer says. The shift in the rhyme accentuates this shift in blaming strategy.
I love the song and I love Dylan’s voice in it. Here it is live at town hall, 1963.